Building Strong Brands: The Inside Scoop on Branding in the Real World
Skip to content
Marketing Aug 15, 2018

Building Strong Brands: The Inside Scoop on Branding in the Real World

Tim Calkins’s blog draws lessons from brand missteps and triumphs.

A clerk scans brand trademarks.

Morgan Ramberg

Based on insights from

Timothy Calkins

For Kellogg’s Tim Calkins, there’s plenty to learn from brands that make smart decisions—like Geico’s commitment to its memorable tagline: “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.”

There’s probably even more to learn from the brands that mess up.

From United Airlines forcibly removing a passenger from an overbooked flight to Sea World’s long, slow trickle of negative publicity, Calkins’s much-lauded blog Building Strong Brands is the place to go for insightful takes on brands in the news.

“I hope my blog encourages people to think a bit more deeply about brands, marketing, and communication more broadly,” says Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg.

If you are unfamiliar with his blog, here’s a preview of what you’ve been missing.

A “Pay Your Age” Fiasco

By all accounts, Build-A-Bear’s recent “Pay Your Age Day” promotion was an utter disaster. Crowded stores, long lines, and “safety concerns” forced the stuffed-animal retailer to shut down what was intended to be an all-day event by 11 a.m.

Clearly, the day marked a low point for the retailer. After all, no company wants to be associated with crying children. But as Calkins wrote in a recent post, Build-A-Bear’s brand may experience a less obvious—and potentially more insidious—hit for quite some time.

By offering its products at $3 or $5—if even for a day—the company may have set the expectation that this is all that its product should cost. “Pricing is complicated,” writes Calkins, “especially for items that aren’t easy to compare. What is the right price for a home robot? I have no idea. How about a flying personal drone that can get you to your work? Not a clue.”

So consumers use what a product does cost as a reference. “For many people, the correct price for an iTunes song is 99 cents, only because that’s where Apple started,” Calkins explains. Now that some people have seen a stuffed narwhal or T-Rex go for a handful of dollars, their willingness to pay could be influenced “for many years to come.”

Freedom for All

In another recent post, Calkins explains why he thinks Budweiser’s creatively named new Freedom Reserve Red Lager—“inspired by a recipe that George Washington wrote in his journal in 1757”—is a good idea, though unlikely to be a blockbuster.

Fraction Confusion

Or check out this post on Fifth Third Bank’s acquisition of MB Financial Bank. “The move,” writes Calkins, “gives Cincinnati-based Fifth Third an opportunity to do something it should have done a long time ago—drop its ridiculous brand name.”

Most Popular This Week
  1. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  2. Don’t Wait to Be Asked: Lead
    A roadmap for increasing your influence at work.
    An employee leads by jumping from the bleachers and joining the action.
  3. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  4. Knowing Your Boss’s Salary Can Make You Work Harder—or Slack Off
    Your level of motivation depends on whether you have a fair shot at getting promoted yourself.
    person climbin ladder with missing rungs toward rich boss surrounded by money bags on platform
  5. Sitting Near a High-Performer Can Make You Better at Your Job
    “Spillover” from certain coworkers can boost our productivity—or jeopardize our employment.
    The spillover effect in offices impacts workers in close physical proximity.
  6. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  7. Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?
    Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
    doctors offices in small nodules
  8. Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition Is Still Entrepreneurship
    ETA is one of the fastest-growing paths to entrepreneurship. Here's how to think about it.
    An entrepreneur strides toward a business for sale.
  9. Four Strategies for Cultivating Strong Leaders Internally
    A retired brigadier general explains how companies can prioritize talent development.
    Companies should adopt intentional leadership strategies since developing leaders internally is critical to success.
  10. Take 5: How to Be Prepared for Important Career Moments
    Expert advice on getting ready to network, negotiate, or make your case to the CEO.
    How to be prepared
  11. Why Do Long Wars Happen?
    War is a highly inefficient way of dividing contested resources—yet conflicts endure when there are powerful incentives to feign strength.
    long line of soldiers marching single file through a field
  12. Podcast: The Case for Admitting (Some) Flaws at Work
    On this episode of The Insightful Leader: Why showing vulnerability can actually be a boon for leaders.
  13. 2 Factors Will Determine How Much AI Transforms Our Economy
    They’ll also dictate how workers stand to fare.
    robot waiter serves couple in restaurant
  14. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  15. Take 5: How to Sell Your Startup from the Start
    Advice from our experts on pitching your idea—and yourself.
    entrepreneurs pitch to venture capitalists for funding
  16. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  17. Take 5: Not So Fast!
    A little patience can lead to better ideas, stronger organizations, and more-ethical conduct at work.
  18. Podcast: So You Want to Be a Luxury Brand
    So opulent! So exclusive! In the first of two bonus episodes, we explore everything that helps brands like Ferrari and Manolo Blahnik scream luxury.
    woman with pink hotel handbag entering pink hotel
  19. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
More in Business Insights Entrepreneurship